There are so many different product claims or weird marketing buzzwords on every food you pick up at the grocery store. And no surprise that with this, comes loads of misinformation.
Lyndi got her start in the nutrition world through a food company, so it's time to shed some light on how health claims can be made, the health star ratings and even portion sizes.
Basically, let's dive into how to tell if a product is actually healthy.
P.s. Let’s stay connected on Instagram! No wellness wankery, I promise. Just bs-free and practical health advice, so that you can feel strong and confident in your already wonderful body.
Hey guys, and welcome to today's episode of the Wellness Wankery Podcast.
That almost sounded like a jingle.
It was. I tried. I went there. It's good to have you here. My name is Lyndi Cohen, dietitian, nutritionist, renewed nutritionist, and I'm joined by my awesome co-host, Jenna D'Apice. Hello. Very excited to be with you today and we have a good one because we've been looking through the internet, through the interweb, and there's so many little things that pop up about who's making health claims about food and it comes back to what is healthy, what is processed, what is not.
I mean, it's really overwhelming, isn't it? Because sometimes we have this idea, we have a product, we're like, oh, that's a healthy product. And then you get an influencer who's like, this is poisonous, you are damaging your body. Or you have a product that you're like, wait a minute, why does that have health claims? So for example, you have something like marshmallows, which have a fat-free health claim on them because they are 100% sugar. And so technically, and what we're going to go into now is a little bit of how health claims are made and when to take them on and when to kind of ignore them. So something like the marshmallows, they're technically allowed to say something like it's 100% fat-free and that's allowed. So I think we kind of can't just take health claims as truth and this is what we should be listening to solely. We need to consider the entire product. I'll give you a few examples. I'm sorry, these are a little bit of Australian examples. We have a cereal here called Nutri-Grain. Nutri-Grain is a very low-fibre, high-sugar cereal, but it's very much marketed as a health cereal.
Would you agree?
I'm sure there's cereals probably like that all over the world. Just like, you know the cereal we're talking about. Yeah, I would definitely agree. I remember growing up, we had these big Nutri-Grain bowls that probably came with the packs and me and my brothers all had one. I had like lines to fill up to how much of an athlete you were going to be if you had that much Nutri-Grain.
That's cute. It's cute, but if you haven't seen the ads, they really use iron men, iron women, or iron kids, you know, those kind of like athletes and they're talking about how this is the perfect cereal to have if you're in that sport. And you know what? If you are an iron person, it is a really great cereal to have because when you are burning so much energy, you need a high energy cereal, which is what this is, and you need a low fiber cereal. So tick, tick, tick. And so you could see how that creates a little bit of a misleading message to the rest of us who are doing extreme athletic feats each day and we start to think, well, if this is what athletes eat, I should eat a little bit more like that.
Probably similar to like energy drinks in terms, not energy drinks, but like Powerade, Gatorade, those type of things. They do the same thing. It's like all sports stars on it, when realistically it's a lot of people just like stopping at the shops, being like, mm, I feel like a Gatorade.
Totally, but does that mean that, you know, Nutrigain or Gatorade are unhealthy? I think it depends who you are. Because for a certain kind of person, those are going to be healthy options, but for someone who's going to have that desk job, like who exercises an hour a day, you don't need to have an energy replacement drink. You're not losing enough electrolytes to really justify that. So that's an example of how marketing can kind of give us that green, green whitewashing, greenwashing is what it's called, a health halo effect. And when it comes to things like health claims, I think it's a little bit complicated. Let's stick within the serial category because I think it's a bit of an overwhelming one. Let's talk about something like Sultana Brown. So I was on TV and I was speaking to one of the co-hosts whose name I'm not going to mention, but you'd know her. And she said, yeah, but Sultana brand has got so much sugar. How could people promote it as being healthy?
And it's just from Sultana?
It really took me back because I was like, wow, this is a really educated, healthy person who feels like Sultana brand is an evil choice to have. And the thought that goes to my brain is the source of sugar is coming from mostly sultanas. I think there probably is a little bit of added sugar, but if having a little bit of added sugar means that you're more inclined to have a really high fiber breakfast cereal, do it consistently and enjoy it. That's brilliant. And I think if you're the kind of person who's like, listen, I'm going to have a full brand cereal and I'm not going to add anything sweet, like brilliant, good for you. But the majority of people are going to want something that's a little bit more palatable and enjoyable and I kind of think a little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down. I'm not at all promoting the idea of adding sugar and you know like please don't think I'm that way inclined but I just think we've got this idea that nutrition has to be perfect in order for it to be healthy and I just think that's nonsense and it makes healthy eating so much harder. It's like how I always talk about why salad dressing is great to vegetables. It's brilliant. It's the exact same situation here. And so I think there's been a lot of advice to kind of look at a breakfast cereal, look at any category and be like, how much sugar does it have per 100 grams? This approach is flawed because what you're focusing on is all the nutrients you want to cut out. So you're like, okay, well, can't have too much fat, can't have too much sugar, can't have too much salt, but you're totally neglecting the positive nutrients. You're ignoring the fact that actually people who have more fiber in their diet, their gut health is better, their immunity is better, they feel better in their tummies because their bowel movements are regular. There are so many benefits from it. And so simply the avoidance of negative nutrients is not health. We've got to be looking at what we're adding.
So when you say negative nutrients, it's like the things we think are quote unquote bad.
Yeah, the things we've been told we need to remove from our diet. I'm not saying they are negative, they're just the things that we've been told to reduce. And then there are stuff that we want to try and add in. So positive nutrients, and those are things like fiber, protein, antioxidants, calcium, those things. And I think there's not nearly enough attention placed on those things, and too much obsession with what we're not allowed to eat. So is that kind of like this health halo that you're talking about? I think the health halo can apply to something like the marshmallow example where, you know, in the 90s it was like fat is awful and you get this health claim. Okay, right. And you kind of go, oh, well, it hasn't got a fat, therefore it must be healthy for me. All health halo applies to this idea of when you have a product like a pack of lollies and it's like in a green packaging and it's got like ferns and stuff you know all across it and it's kind of like 20% less sugar which is you know fine but it's also like you're trying to send the message this is a really healthy product when it's still lollies and lollies are great and can be part of a healthy diet, but it's not a health food.
Okay, yes, not a health food. And the other thing we're talking about is obviously in Australia we have the health star rating and things on product and so other countries have something similar as how healthy is this food. But sometimes you look at foods and the numbers are so warped and you're like, how is this got a four star? Why does this not have a star on it at all?
Yes, okay, so the way health star rating works, there's a few things to know about this. And by the way, I used to work at a food company for many years, how I got my start in nutrition, and I think it's very interesting. So I really do understand health plans, I think. So you've got two things to consider here. One is that this is not mandatory. So companies can opt in, which means that you don't need to display the health star rating yet, it's still in a trial period. If it's proven that it is successful, it might become mandatory, and it might become mandatory in only some categories. They're still going to be experimenting. They're still doing slight tweaks to the algorithm and the way that it works. The other thing to understand is that each category is going to have its own rules that apply to it on how you can kind of label things. So what the Health Star Rating is attempting to do is if I was looking at muesli bars, it's going to help me see which are the healthier and which are the less healthy options. So we're not gonna compare, you might have like a muesli bar that has a 3.5 star rating and then you have a yogurt that has a 3.5 star rating.
And that's different.
It's not to say they are the same nutritionally, it's just within that category that is kind of how it's ranking.
Yeah, so is it this muesli bar as compared to this muesli bar? Yes. Not like actually what the nutrients are of that specific bar.
Yeah, and generally you're gonna be like, well, it's got a four star rating, it's gonna be ticking some boxes. Now the way that the health star rating works is that you're looking at negative nutrients and positive nutrients. Sorry, that's why I use those terms, because that's I think where I, that was my indoctrination into it all. Because that's what I love about that system, is it's not just thinking about the things you can't have, it's also going, well, okay, this might have a little bit of sugar, but it's got quite a lot of fiber, it's got a lot of protein, therefore it helps it redeem a little bit more stars. And I think that's why something like All-Brown, which does have something like added sugar, I don't know how many stars it has, but it would have a pretty high star rating, or Wheat Bix, even if it does have a small amount of added sugar to it.
Yes, okay. Okay, so it is something you can look at to make choices?
Generally, yes. Is it perfect? No. Is it going to tell you the full story? No, but is it better than, I think, what we've been told in the past, you have to read the nutrition label and memorize how many grams of each category. I think that's a bit disordered, to be honest, and I'd like to move away from that kind of stuff. Yeah, I had my first experience actually yesterday in Woolworths because I was getting something, what were you getting? Like a pesto. And my immediate thing, I knew the pesto that had like the lowest calories and that's the one I immediately went to, but then my partner picked up the other pesto and then I actually, it was like, I had never even figured or thought of getting another pesto. And when I actually looked at it, the one he picked up, the ingredient list looked a lot more just like nice normal things, like normal ingredients as opposed to like chemically things. And I was like, oh, that's nice. That's probably, is probably fine. Do you remember what the calorie difference was? It was like double. I'm just thinking, even if it's double, like is that a fundamental difference in the context of your diet? No. That's what I'm thinking, where it's like, okay, well it was double the amount but the amount of pesto you would use in an entire pasta how negligible would that difference even be is the point I'm trying to get at. Exactly yes no and then when I actually stopped because it's just like I was just like on like default that I always just grab it and put in the trolley but when I actually stopped and looked at it it's just like the one that I never normally would choose the ingredients list was like all the type of stuff that you would just use if you
were making pesto yourself.
Yes, right, which is what we really want. It's okay, this takes us to ingredients list, as it can be a useful thing to look at. Now, I am not in any of this conversation saying, I want you picking up a packet, I want you reviewing that nutrition list, I want you reviewing the ingredients list. I'm not saying that at all. But I don't know if you know this, but the way that the ingredients list works is that the ingredient that's got the highest volume comes first on the ingredients list, and then, so the one that's last in the ingredients is the smallest amount. So that's kind of a useful thing. So typically people are like, well, don't, if it's got sugar as the second ingredient, then it's bad for you. And I think that is just, I think that's misleading and wrong. But we do just like, let's say you're having porridge, you want it to be oats as the first ingredient.
So it's that kind of thing where you just kind of like, listen, are these things familiar to me? Do I recognize them? I don't believe this idea that we have to go for foods that have zero chemicals in them because everything's a chemical. Everything is a chemical.
Yeah, I was thinking people like can't have things with numbers in it, but I'm like a lot of probiotics, a lot of good things, a lot of things that are probably really health positive have numbers. Yeah. And it's like, unless you're a health chemist, it's just like, things are gonna have numbers.
And things are gonna have words that you can't pronounce.
Like all your probiotics. I mean, you know, kudos to you if you could pronounce all the probiotic names. There are thousands and I'd be very impressed. And so I think that kind of, those hard and fast rules are not helpful. When you generally look at the ingredients, Liz, is it generally familiar? When you look at the pesto, are you like, yeah, these are generally the ingredients one would use for a pesto. And of course, if you're going to have something that's shelf stable, it may have something like citric acid or something to help keep it a little bit more...
Yeah, it has to stay in a jar.
...stabilized. The alternative is that you make it from scratch, which I think would be brilliant, but realistically, I think done is better than perfect.
A hundred percent.
Let's talk about serving size. This is a big one, because I especially, you look at packets and you're like, this rice has four serves, but you're like, it's probably got two serves.
And then you feel kind of bad.
Yeah, or you have the recommended serving size and you're like, that was measly. Why am I still so hungry? And instead of blaming the serving size on the back of a pack, you blame your appetite. You think, I am ravenous. I have an issue with how much food I need. Instead of recognizing that serving sizes on the back of food packets are complete made-up marketing stuff from the food company.
So they just tweak things so that they can get different health star ratings or have different calories and say different things about it.
Totally, so for example, I don't know if you've seen like a chocolate bar, things like a Mars bar, it's like the king size is two and a half serving sizes per pack, but it's a non-resealable pack. It's one bar. It's one bar. So it's clearly not intended by the manufacturer to be eaten in two and a half sittings. It's clearly, you know, they're assuming you're eating in one go, but because they wanted it to appear nutritionally superior, they've gone, all right, well, there's two and a half serving sizes because that makes the calories per serving size, the sugar per serving size, appear a whole lot better. So there is all of this manipulation that happens. And you're going to see it when you have a drink and it's like, this is two serves. It's not two serves. You intended it to be one serve, but you wanted me to be tricked into thinking this is a healthier product than it is. So what I want you to know is do not take serving size as any indication of how much energy your body requires or how much energy the manufacturer intends you to truly actually sit down and eat. It is simply a manipulation. And this is why we come back to the idea of intuitive eating because sometimes things will be higher in energy and as a result, you might feel fuller. If they're higher in fat, you're going to feel fuller and have that satisfaction. So you don't need to go on and read the back of the pack and go, how much am I allowed to eat? Because you eat or you consume until you feel satisfaction and that is the correct portion size for you on that particular day. Because as we know, serving size or how much food you require each and every day is going to continuously adjust depending on the weather, how much you move, where you are in your hormonal cycle, all these kinds of things are going to make a difference. So let's avoid this idea of portion size and serving size
or manipulation and let's instead tune into how much body your body needs on that day. In terms of portion size, what
about if you're like following a recipe and it says like this is how much chicken you have for four people and then or this is how much rice you need for four people? Okay, yes, that's a good question. Okay, so I develop a lot of recipes and one of the key things that go, right, well, realistically, when you buy a tin, you're not going to use half a tin, you're going to use the full tin, or when you buy a chicken, you're going to buy a pack of chicken, and we're contemplating how generally in our supermarkets, how much chicken do you buy in one packet. We're then using that to try and go, well, we want people to use up that entire amount so that it's practical and so that helps us inform how much a serving size is going to be. Then balance that with, well, we want people to try and get two to three serves of vegetables per sitting. That informs how much a serving size is going to be. Then there is the satisfaction factor. Now if you are a woman who's five foot and you're a man who's six foot five, you are clearly going to need different portion sizes. So this whole idea that you're meant to somehow, and one recipe is meant to dictate how much energy either of these people need is ridiculous. I'm not in any way insinuating that it could do that, but generally we're going to go and think about how much would a standard person eat, and could this feed a family of four? We're generally using that, and is it going to be enough? And sometimes it might not be enough and you need to add a little bit more or you need to eat more than the recipe tells you to eat or you eat less and you feel really full on that day. But I think the message here is that similarly to food products that you find in the supermarket, recipes are just done by recipe developers who are going to try their best to estimate how much you're going to need to feel satisfied and full, but take that with a grain of salt because your hunger is always going to be that thing that really guides you about how much energy you need.
Okay, portion sizes, you just gotta check in with yourself.
Yeah, check in with yourself, and also just like, is that really gonna be enough? And sometimes it might be.
And I think with the portion sizes, I know like if I make a recipe, I like try and pressure myself that there needs to be leftovers, that's what the recipe said, but sometimes you are still hungry and you're allowed to eat them.
That's exactly it.
Okay, sorted that.
Don't worry about portion sizes. I mean, I always think it's a good idea to double a recipe anyway, so you cook once, eat twice. I think I'm a big fan of that. And just see how you go. And then you might learn from recipes and go, typically, it's not enough food for me
or my family.
And then you can adjust recipes by that. In my Back To Basics app, bit of a shout out, you can easily adjust serving sizes. There's like a little button, so you can just go like, I want to make five serving sizes, six serving sizes, and so you can vary, and then all the ingredients adjust for you automatically to make it very easy for you to cook however much food you and your family need.
Yes, I love it, and sometimes I'll keep going up until like, as you said, with the chicken, like until then, I use two packets of chicken, so then I know that I can just get two packets of chicken, because having like leftover little scrags is very annoying, so you just adjust it, and then you can put stuff in the freezer. It's the best. I think so. I'm all about that. So our final little thing we want to chat about is sometimes we say that some foods are processed, some foods are not processed. It feels like there's people's opinions about what's processed, what's not processed, what's good, what's
bad. How do we distinguish this? Yeah, and there's no hard and fast rules, sadly. So of course, there's the rhetoric in the wellness world. Look for minimally processed. Now, what does minimally processed mean? I think it's very different from the word not processed. So not processed food is going to be something like an apple in its whole form. As soon as you cut up that apple, you've processed it. Okay? So, or what else is an example is you're going to have yogurt. Yogurt is processed. Yogurt is no longer milk.
And cow's milk just produce yogurt.
Exactly. But is yogurt a healthy food? Well, yeah, absolutely it can be. What about something like oats? Oats is processed from its original format. If you get something like quick oats that's been chopped up, it's been processed. Then there's different things that can get added to it. Firstly, what I'm trying to say is I think eating whole foods is brilliant, so fruits, vegetables, legumes, all that kind of stuff. But ultimately, I don't think we should be striving for no-process foods. I think a little bit of processing is going to be very helpful, A, from a convenience factor. I just also think from a digestion perspective as well, there's kind of that whole raw food movement and this whole idea that we should be not processing our food at all. But if we look at historically, when did humans really develop, especially our brains, it's when humans were able to start cooking food. And what does the cooking process do? It allows us to absorb and take more nutrients from the food that we're eating. So this whole idea that we should be having foods like purely in their pure state doesn't gel with this whole idea that when we cook and process foods, we may actually be able to absorb more of the nutrients from them. So there was a little bit of an Instagram debate that happened last month with Jono Steedman, who's a dietician and a great person to follow. I think he's great. And I'm not going to mention who he got into beef with, but the whole debacle was kind of over that influencer person saying that Wheat Bix, which are these breakfast biscuits, are really processed. But in the same token, promoting these really quite processed protein shakes or gut health powder things, and I think this is such a contradiction from the wellness world, where they'll tell you that this food is awful for you because it's so processed, even though it's minimally processed. But protein powders are always okay. And they are so protein powdery. What is protein powder? And they work out all of these things. Pre-workout, what the hell is pre-workout? Stimulants. And there is such a double standard when they come to say, well, this is okay, but this isn't. And I think we have to just see that as a little bit of bullshit and absolute wellness wankery and go minimally processed, yes. A little bit more processed, fine. What we're looking for are those nutrients that make me feel good, like protein or calcium. What we're looking at is how much energy my body needs on a specific day. What we're looking at is do these ingredients feel kind of familiar-ish? It doesn't have to be perfect, but is it healthy enough? That is what we should be striving for. So I hope this conversation around health claims helps you go, yeah, they're gonna be useful, but do not rely on them. Use your noggin and certainly do not believe what a wellness influencer says.
That is it. Don't buy in too much to the marketing. I think just remembering that a lot of it is marketing. It's not health.
It's a lot of marketing.
It's just trying to sell you things you probably don't need or trying to make you avoid things maybe you want.
Exactly. If you love this episode, please leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you. Any comments, if you have any questions send
them through nude underscore nutritionist. Thanks for having us. Well, thanks for listening.
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